Western India: Weekend Escapes – Friends Holiday 2023

Hingolgadh Nature Sanctuary: alive with bird sounds

Avian life in the Hingolgadh Nature Sanctuary is a delight for ornithologists and wildlife enthusiasts.

Located on the Kathiawad Peninsula of Gujarat, Hingolgadh comes as no surprise – nothing about the miles upon miles of scrubby plains and fields you encounter on this road prepares you for the sight of a medieval fortress rising from a hill of such a thousand meters high. The highlight of the fort is its location in Hingolgadh Nature Reserve, rich in bird life.

After three and a half hours drive from Ahmedabad, we arrived at the base of the hill on which the castle was situated and started the winding journey through the jungle of scrub to the cannon guarded rampart overlooking the valley, its water bodies and thicket jungle. Rising behind the ramparts, the facade of the fortress has beautifully carved jukokha balconies. We entered the fort through a courtyard and ascended the stairs to the rooms where you can access the museum of heirlooms of the owners belonging to a Kathy Kshatriya dynasty who first ruled Hingolgadhin the 17th century, and then near Jasdan. We saw a gallery of antique clocks, a collection of traditional utensils, bits of beadwork and other textiles and memorabilia from the early 20th century. We also got a glimpse into a regal bedroom replete with a brass four-poster bed, old cabinets and an ornate fireplace.

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Hingolgadh Nature Sanctuary (Photo door Tekina)

From the fort, we trekked through the shrine’s thickets and were rewarded with the sight of a graceful Indian gazelle, better known as a chinkara. As we descended from the hill we saw a group of nilgai or blue bull antelopes. The bushes strewn with bird calls, and we saw larks, wheatears, warblers and quail on the trail. Retired to the chateau, we drove to a body of water that came alive with a large flock of demoiselle cranes, ducks and waders. Hungry after our morning trek, we drove to Jasdan where we found a dhaba near the bus station. Here we had a delicious lunch of traditional Kathiawadi dishes including bajra rotla (millet straw), sev tamatar (tomato curry decorated with thin slices of dough), lasania bataka (potatoes cooked in a garlic paste), kadhi and khichdi.

Hingolgadh Nature Sanctuary (Photo door Tekina)
Hingolgadh Nature Sanctuary (Photo door Tekina)

How to get there

Hingolgadh is about three and a half hours drive from Ahmedabad airport and one and a half hours from Rajkot airport.

Where to stay

Hingolgadh is an hour’s drive from Gondal, which is home to heritage hotels such as The Palace, Gondal (+91-2825-220002), The Riverside Palace, Gondal (+91-2825-221950). You can also visit www.gondalpalaces.com for more information.

Ahmedabad to Hingolgadh

190 km

Sayla: Handicraft Lover’s Delight

Sayla in Gujarat is an ideal haunt for those looking for a historical break along with handicraft shopping.

Sayla lies in the heart of the major handloom cluster of Gujarat’s Surendranagar district known for its khadi, single ikat sarees and tangaliya weavers. Looking for an unusual holiday we drove to Bell Guest House in Sayla for a historical holiday combined with a tour of the handloom centers.

The Bell Guest House was built about a century ago by Sayla ‘s ruling family and host to their British visitors. Today, the family’s family have opened it as a 10-room heritage homestay facility with the owners still in residence. The facade is mostly European but with some nice native wood carvings on the balcony.

Sayla (Photo by Mukherjee)
Sayla (Photo by Mukherjee)

We climbed the wooden stairs to our room and gazed up from the open gallery at the covered trees where we saw a spotted owlet and a number of parakeets. The gardens were full of warblers, sunbirds and white eyes. All rooms were spacious and most had an extra luggage room and spacious baths, but we selected one in the upstairs corner which was exceptionally large, had a wooden ceiling and a private balcony. After a home cooked dinner it was relaxing to sit on our balcony and watch the stars in the dark sky.

In the morning we enjoyed a walk in the grounds and a full breakfast before heading to the home and workshop of the silk weavers with the owners, Somraj and Priti. These weavers use the ikat technique where the thread is dyed into the required patterns before being pulled onto the loom.

After buying some stoles, we drove to Vasatri , known for its tangaliya weaving. This is a form of weaving in which extra threads are used to create patterns on the fabric during the weaving process. Traditionally done for shawls of the Bharwad herdsmen, the weavers are now aware of the demand in contemporary markets. We also visited one of the Prajapatis, a community of potters, in their workshop in Botad. In addition to a variety of utensils, the family also showed us ceramic jewelry they had made.

Before heading back to Sayla, we visited the Dhakania grasslands on the outskirts of Botad to watch antelopes and were rewarded with the sight of a herd of Blackbucks.

How to get there Sayla is 88 km from Rajkot Airport and Railway Station and 136 km from Ahmedabad Airport and Railway Station.

Where to stay

Bell Guest House, Sayla Circle NH 8, Sayla District Surendranagar, Sayla, Gujarat (+ 91-97246-78145)

Ahmedabad to Sayla

136 km

Uttan: Monsoon and the Sea

Take a break from your busy schedule and spend some leisure time close to the sea at U-tan resorts in Uttan .

After almost a week of non-stop rain, we headed for a place called Uttan, just over 35 km north of Mumbai city. We were on Western Express Highway then left from Kashimira Junction through Bhayandar towards Dongri. The Pali Beach Resort comes first and then there is a bit of a climb up a hill that ends at the U-tan Resorts where we were booked in for the night.

Instead of two ‘compact’ rooms, we opted for a studio apartment with two double beds and a window seat that folds out as an extra bed. The spacious balcony overlooked the pool and would have had a beautiful view of the sea if it weren’t for this huge mango tree. As soon as the rain stopped, we set out to explore the place.

A gazebo with clusters of bamboo trees and large terracotta pots was an inviting place to sit and watch the sea. A tree next to it had lots of little colorful buckets hanging from its many branches – very attractive to any small children visiting.

The sight of the sea was enchanting with the fishing boats bobbing in the choppy waters. As it got dark, we were denied the pleasure of watching a classic sunset among the clouds; the wind picked up speed and the rain came straight onto the balcony. Just the right time for hot pakoras and chai! Room service required and we were in for a treat!

In the morning the clouds cleared and we were able to walk on the paved paths. The lilies were at their most colorful best while the parijat flowers (also known as hasnayana) exude an intoxicating scent. Some herons came and sat on the rocky outcrop to dry out their feathers. On a clear day one can walk down to the beach and view the sea from the jetty.

How to get there

By Air: Mumbai, 35 km away, is the nearest airport.

By Rail: Mumbai is the nearest major railway station.

By Road : Take the Western Express Highway and from Kashimira Junction take a left turn towards Dongri.

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Where to stay

U-Tan Sea Resort

Tel: 022 2845 1151/022 2845

2345 / 98922 93661

Mumbai naar Uttan

35 km

Hodka: Rustic vacation

If you want to take a break from the everyday urban routine and delve into village life, head to Hodka .

Color tone, warm hospitality and sense of pride define the best of Hodka village. At Hodka one can experience endogenous or transformative tourism. It means traveling not only for pleasure, but also for broadening your horizons. The origin of the village traces back to a clan named Halepotra. Literally translated, Halepotra means son or the descendant of Halaji, who is believed to have emigrated from Sindh. The other predominant clan at Hodka is the Hindu Meghwals who immigrated here in the 18th century.

At Hodka you have the opportunity to experience what it is like to live in Bhungas , the circular mud houses with thatched roofs. Don’t be fooled by their humble appearance. The interiors of these eco homes are comfortably spacious with king size mud beds and mud benches. There are also attached bathrooms with solar hot water showers.

Photo by meanestindian
Photo by meanestindian

Bhungas are a beautiful balance of age-old traditional architectural precision and modern amenities. They are designed to withstand the extreme weather of Kutch. The walls are decorated with colorful floral patterns and mirror work known as Lippan comb.

Those looking for retail therapy should check out the artisans’ leather crafts and the various embroidery styles, including mutwa, pakko, neran and appliqué, made by the female folk. There are plenty of local artists who practice the craft in their homes. Leather products include embroidered mojadis, hand fans, mirror frames and wall pieces. Interestingly, embroidery is a family tradition and girls as young as seven can be seen learning the art from their mothers. The available items are kanjris (long embroidered blouses), sheets, bags and wallets.

At Hodka you can enjoy excellent vegetarian Gujarati and Kutchi dishes. A variety of rotats, kadhi, dal, khichdi, undhyoo, buttermilk and sweets like gulab pak are available to whet your appetite. There is also an option to go to Bhirandiyara village, a few kilometers away, to enjoy the mava mithai. The brown mithai, made only with buffalo milk and sugar, is a must try.

How to get there

The nearest airport and railway station is at Bhuj, 65 km away. From Bhuj one can rent a car to reach Hodka. The road is in very good condition and the ride is a pleasure.

Where to stay

Shaam-e-sarhad village resort in Hodka is a good option. It won the 2010 Pacific Asia Travel Association gold award for best rural tourism project. (+91-2803-296222).

Jhadol Safari Resort: Lakefront Tranquality

Having heard a lot about the streams, lakes and dramatic landscapes of Jhadol , we decided to take a one night break at the Jhadol Safari Resort .

How to reach Jhadol Safari Resort

We started early from Ahmedabad and drove past Himmatnagar to Idar where we took a tea break and then walked through the Polo forests between Idar and Vijaynagar.Nowadays we arrived at Jhadol safari resort around noon and followed local signposts to Jhadol Safari Resort with a dirt road to the reception.

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Over Jhadol Safari Resort

This property came as a surprise – the rather remote location and unmade road had led us to believe it would be a simple lodge, but instead it had a lovely lawn stretching between an attractive building and a swimming pool overlooking the lake , an attractive dining room and a variety of modern comforts. Over lunch, Vishwavijay Singh Jhala, the owner, told us, “My ancestors, Jhala Rajputs, came to Mewar in the Middle Ages. In exchange for military services to the Maharanas of Mewar, we were given the rule of Jhadol area. This property was our ancestral hunting lodge – the main lodge has a deck overlooking the jungle and the lake was used for duck making.

We spent the evening on the lawns enjoying a dip in the pool and afternoon tea overlooking the lake with its flocks of coots and motley ducks and herons. A flock of smaller whistling ducks flew over us and landed on the lake. At night we climbed the stairs to the bar filled with Raj memorabilia and pictures of royal yachts. After a chilled beer, we descended for dinner, which included regional Rajasthani specialties including makki-kiroti with local-style chicken curry. The clear sky was starry in the cool night. In the morning we awoke to the sonorous call of the Saras crane from the lake and saw three of them standing on an island with the morning sunlight on their striking red heads. A turbaned staff member took us on a tour of the fruit orchards, showing us guava, mango and gooseberries. We tucked into a hearty breakfast on the lawns and chatted happily with other guests including a Swiss artist from Finland.

How to get there

Jhadol is approximately four hours drive from Ahmedabad International Airport and two hours from Dabok Airport in Udaipur.

Where to stay

Jhadol Safari Resort at Ravla Bagh, Village – Tehsil, Jhadol, Dist. Udaipur, Rajasthan. For reservations please call 9636224224 or 9828109037.

Chhota Udepur – Unique blend of cultures

De stad Chhota Udepuris in the middle of tribal villages and hamlets. From Vadodara we drove to the Machi Plateau opposite the Pavagadh Hill which is about 822 m high and clad in forests. From the Machi Plateau, we bought our ticket for the six-person Swiss-style cabin. The cable car journey was spectacular, looking out over forests and rock formations before reaching the station at the hilltop. We walked past the stalls serving tea and snacks, to the Laukalish Temple which stood in the middle of a body of water. Built in the 11th century, this temple is now mostly ruined but the standing walls reflect the fine architecture and intricate carvings. From here you can join the pilgrims for the walk to Kali Temple or Jain Derasar complex. We then drove to Chhota Udepur which has a number of palaces,

Kali Niketan Building (Photo by Official Website)
Kali Niketan Building (Photo by Official Website)

We drove to the market by a lake where the Saturday hatred was going on. The stalls were selling tribal ornaments, arrowheads, bows, knives, farming tools, food grains, and women’s accessories and toiletries such as mirrors, cosmetics, talcum powder, hairpins, and polyester clothing. The next stop was the tribal museum with examples of murals depicting Pithoras, native weapons, tribal utensils, musical instruments and attires. From Chhota Udepur, we drove to one of the Rathwa villages picturesquely situated in low hills near fields of millet, maize, wheat and barley. Near the village was a tribal shrine with many terracotta figures facing a tribal deity under a sprawling tree with many fruit bats hanging from its branches. The next morning we went back to Vadodara for lunch at Home for Nature Lovers, an eco-resort in Jambughoda Palace. Here, a senior Rathwa worker told us about a freshly painted pithora in his house. We made our way to a small cluster of five homes belonging to his extended family, where a young woman opened the door to show us the wall covered with a very ritualistic painting on the walls. The main colors used are yellow, indigo, orange, green, vermilion, red, ultramarine blue, black and silver. The paintings depict myths and animal figures.

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How to get there:

It is a border town (between Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh) about 102 km from Vadodara in Gujarat.

Where to stay

Kali Niketan is a 60 acre summer palace complex in Chhota Udepur run by the owners as a heritage hotel. Home for Nature Lovers Jambughoda Palace is an eco-resort located between Vadodara and Chhota Udepur.

Matheran- Green on top

Matheran is a place where the most beautiful panoramas lure even the laziest of walkers. The little hill station holds a very special place in my heart because it was the easiest break I could take at any given time. After 10 long years going to Matheran was a reminiscence ride to a good old friend. Many years ago a benign looking travel article on how to trek through this bit of Sahayadri range landed me in a knee rattling experience that even after many years, I find hard to forget.

But well said, this destination is a very popular zone for all the residents of Pune and Mumbaikars in all enthusiasm. Hugh Poyntz Malet discovered this little hill station in 1850 and he certainly had no idea it would throng with tourists of all age groups and walks of life. Being the eco-sensitive zone, all transport must stop at Dasturi from where one walks on the small railway tracks, takes a pony or takes the train Neral .

Lord Central Hotel

I suggest staying at the Lords Central Hotel. Opened in 1930 by Siavax Lord for travelers to come and share the delicious English Parsi meals and stay awhile, it is not for those bound by luxury.

Sahyadri Range (Photo by Nikhil Junankar)
Sahyadri Range (Photo by Nikhil Junankar)

It acts as a home where one comes with the generation’s baggage and the time to laze around and be one with the environment. It is next to the viewpoint that overlooks the valley and the villages. Mornings and evenings are ideal for walks on the beautiful expanses of woodland and trails, while trotting on ponies and horses delight everyone, especially children.

Tourist season in Matheran

Come October, as Matheran speeds up to open after the three to four months of rain, it’s great to feel the clouds as they spin. One should be well equipped with good hiking and swimming sets and jerseys. The small marketplace is there to make you happy and satisfied with the small purchases. Arrays of hats and purses, neatly arranged local chappals, and leather goods are available. Don’t forget to try the local ice cream candy man’s kalakhatta which is simply delicious and will leave you asking for more.

How to get there

By Rail: Mumbai-Neral-Matheran is about 110 km. Pune-Matheran is about 141km. By Road: On the Pune Express Highway after Chowk the direction states 29kms to Matheran.

Must Do’s

Pony trotting, trekking, parasailing and gliding, Nariman chikki center. Wear as little as possible. The best time to visit is from October.

Door Reema Bhalla

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